Are you ready for another summer of Hollywood blockbusters? As the movie studios make final preparations for their summer schedule we look at the surprises during blockbuster season…
Summer is the most lucrative time of the year for Hollywood studios. It’s when they release the biggest budgeted films and, most of the time, they are focused on pleasing an audience instead of winning awards. Sure the winter season is big as well, but for every Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Twilight that comes out in the winter months you have The Dark Knight, Avengers and Transformers. Summer weekdays give films a chance to have 4-5 multipliers, which means they make 4-5 times as much as they gross on opening weekend.
The king of the summer blockbuster is the man who brought the world Jaws, Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park – Steven Spielberg. The term “blockbuster” dates back to the classic Hollywood period with films like 1939’s Gone With The Wind being referred to as a blockbuster based on their financial success. However, Jaws is generally referred to as the modern summer blockbuster referring to its popularity at the box office and movie studios planning strategic marketing campaigns around peak release dates of high-concept films during the summer months. Check out Top 10 Films’ Greatest Blockbusters of the 1990s here.
Over the years, it was easy to pick what films would make the top 10 every summer. Just find the sequel to some enormously popular film and chances are it would make the top 10 list. But what about those films released in the summer that shocked everyone? It doesn’t take a genius to realise that The Phantom Menace and the final chapter in the Harry Potter series would make money. But there are films that come out that catch everyone by surprise…including the studios that release them.
This list will look at the ten biggest surprises at the summer box office OVER THE LAST 20 YEARS. This is for two reasons: 1) because marketing strategies really started to change in the 90s and 2) no one wants to see another list of mine that has JAWS on it.
Instead of doing a top 10 list based on rank, I’ll just do them starting from the earliest to the latest. All grosses are world wide.
Cliffhanger (1993) $255 million
In 1993, Renny Harlin and Sylvester Stallone teamed up to give us one of the most thrilling action films of all time. A lot of the stunts in the film were real and Stallone did a lot of his climbing. What singles Cliffhanger out as one of the biggest surprises at the summer box office is that Stallone was at one of the lowest points of his career and had been for about 9 years. After Rocky IV in 1985, nothing did well, including Rambo III. But Tri-Star took a 70 million dollar chance on this film and it paid off dearly for them and for Stallone.
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Forrest Gump (1994) $677 million
Forrest Gump is a miracle in every way. This is a film that producer Wendy Finerman never gave up on. She bought the rights to author Winston Groom’s book in 1985 and spent 6 years trying to get someone in Hollywood to produce it. Finally, in 1993, Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis agreed to do it after Eric Roth tweaked the screenplay to make it much different than the book. The film is very American and yet it made more money internationally than it did in the US (347 million to 329 million). Off a 55 million dollar budget, it opened to 24 million and went on to make 329 mill, a multiplier of more than 13. Persistence paid off for Finerman making Forrest Gump one of the biggest surprises at the summer box office.
See where Forrest Gump ranks in our Top 10 Tom Hanks Films – 1990 to 2010
Independence Day (1996) $817 million
Director Roland Emmerich was really not known in 1996. Will Smith’s biggest hit before ID4 was Bad Boys with 65 million. Yet here they both were making a 75 million dollar alien invasion film. This is the film that propelled Smith to the box office giant that he is and it also started his “Mr. July 4th” moniker. The film made 65% of its money internationally and at the time was the third highest grossing film of all time. 1996 was also a time where there weren’t many sequels, which makes this gross that much more impressive as it is an original film.
Independence Day is one of the best science-fiction films of the 1990s
There’s Something About Mary (1998) $369 million
This is the film that kick-started many careers and many trends. The Farrelly Brothers were previously successful with Dumb and Dumber, but this one put them over the top. Then you have Cameron Diaz and Ben Stiller who got rich from this. And of course the entire genre of the gross out/extreme comedy started from here. The film wasn’t even on anyone’s radar in 1998, making no one’s top ten projections for the summer. It opened with 13 million dollars and then proceeded to drop no more than 21% in its next 11 weeks.
Discover more great comedy in our Top 10 Comedy Films
The Blair Witch Project (1999) $248 million
This is the film that for all intents and purposes, started the viral marketing boom. It was made for $60,000 (or the cost of Jack Nicholson’s cigars on a shoot) and using clever tactics at Cannes and other festivals from around the world, the film caught fire. In it’s first weekend of wide release, it made 29 million dollars. And in the process, it scared and nauseated film-goers with its shaky cam work. Many producers/directors tried to duplicate its success but not many succeeded. Along with Sixth Sense, 1999 was the year of the unknowns making it big in the summer.
Get more scares in our Top 10 Scariest Films of All Time
Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) $654 million
Pirate movies don’t do well. Johnny Depp was a method actor who had 1 100 million dollar hit to his name. Premiere Magazine had Pirates of the Caribbean finishing with 120 million dollars. 2003 was supposed to be the year of Morpheus and Neo. There were a myriad of reasons why this film was not going to succeed. But super producer Jerry Bruckheimer knew something we didn’t, and he put his money where his faith was as he got Disney to put 140 million dollars into the production. It paid off enormously as the POTC franchise was one of the most profitable of the 2000s.
Jack Sparrow…one of the great modern day anti-heroes!
Mamma Mia (2008) $609 million
A musical, in the summer, starring Meryl Streep. It couldn’t succeed. But it did, in spite of everyone. The two biggest markets for it were the US/Canada where it made 144 million and second was The United Kingdom, where it made 69 million pounds, which puts it at 6th on the all time list, just behind films like Avatar, Titanic and Skyfall. Musicals tend not to do this well. But Mamma Mia surprised everyone.
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The Proposal (2009) $317 million
There are movie websites you can go to that discuss every aspect of a movie’s gross. Out of 100 or so members (at the place I frequent) to make predictions in 2009 about the top summer films, 3 had The Proposal on the top 15. Ryan Reynolds was not a draw and Sandra Bullock had yet to have an enormous hit outside of her early success. The Proposal made 163 million in US/Canada and another 153 million internationally. This caught everyone by surprise.
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Bridesmaids (2011) $288 million
In a summer of high profile sequels like Transformers, Harry Potter, The Hangover, Fast Five and many others, this tiny 32 million dollar film would take North America by storm. It did well internationally for a film that had no real stars in it, but most of its accolades comes from North America. It finished 10th in the summer but ahead of it were 7 sequels/prequels and two Marvel films. The only original film that finished higher was The Help, but because of its insignificant international showing, Bridesmaids makes the list over it. This film also made a star out of Kristen Wiig and of course Melissa McCarthy.
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Avengers (2012) $1.5 billion
Granted, people knew this would be a hit. We knew it was a unique film and pretty much something that had never been done before on this level. But no one knew it would set records and gross as much as it did. This is the first film to make 200 million opening weekend, the first film to make 100 million in its second weekend and all of this while not setting any midnight records or opening day records. The Avengers was enormous everywhere and now it is responsible for the resurrection of the Iron Man franchise (Iron Man 1 and 2 made about 600 million WW, IM3 already opened to 195 million dollars internationally)and will probably cause a spike in the other solo Avenger members films. And we all can’t wait to see what it does for an encore when the sequel comes out in 2015.
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There are many, many other films that could have made this list. Some of them are: Sister Act (1992), Spider-man (2002), The Sixth Sense (1999), Twister (1996), The Fugitive (1993)
Top 10 Films asks: What are your biggest surprises at the summer box office?
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